Liz Truss MP: The new Environment Secretary, her clash with the 'Turnip Taliban' and a controversial rise through the Tory ranks

The MP for South West Norfolk has made a strong impression in just a few years at Westminster - but almost never made it there

She is now one of the shining lights of David Cameron’s “male, pale and stale” Cabinet overhaul – but the new Environment Secretary Liz Truss was almost prevented from running as an MP at all in the last elections just four years ago.

Appointed today as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Ms Truss is at 38 the youngest ever female Cabinet member and the latest high-profile Tory to be described as “the next Margaret Thatcher”.

She joined the Conservatives’ “class of 2010” when she was elected to the seat of South West Norfolk, but her candidacy only narrowly survived an attempt by traditionalist in the constituency association – nicknamed the “Turnip Taliban” – to deselect her.

Senior local party activists expressed anger that they had not been informed Ms Truss had had an affair with fellow Tory Mark Field MP, when they were both married to other people.

Though details of the affair were known in Westminster at the time, news had not reached the South West Norfolk selection committee. Sir Jeremy Bagge, one of those who pushed for Ms Truss’s deselection, said then: “I have absolutely nothing against her as an individual. I voted for her and what she got up to four years ago doesn't concern me. What concerns me is Conservative Central Office, the headquarters, failed to actually advise us that we could be subjected to embarrassment, which we have been subjected to.”

Read more: A Field day for the Tory old guard

Ms Truss’s candidacy survived – as did her marriage, which she said became stronger – but it was not the only controversial moment in her political career.

She joined other new MPs in 2010 as co-author of a book entitled Britannia Unchained, which set out proposals to restore the UK's economic position by stripping back regulation and encouraging innovation.

But the book caused a backlash among British workers for one line in particular, which read: “The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.”

In 2012 she also clashed with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. As minister for education and childcare under Michael Gove, she had ambitious plans to reform pre-school care to allow nurseries to take on more children per member of staff – but they swiftly were blocked by the Deputy Prime Minister.

Ms Truss’s promotion nonetheless marks not only the strong impression she has made in just a few years at Westminster but also David Cameron's determination to shake off the perception that he has surrounded himself with a coterie of middle-class, middle-aged white men from public school backgrounds in the home counties.

In Parliament, she has put herself at the head of a young group of low-tax free-market MPs, founding the Free Enterprise Group to restore the reputation of liberal economics in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008.

And she has been passionate in her advocacy of high academic standards in schools, backing Mr Gove's programme of academies and free schools and denouncing the progressive “child-centred”“ educational theories that she believes have held pupils back since the 1960s.

Brought up in Leeds by left-leaning parents who took her on CND marches as a child, Ms Truss was educated at the comprehensive Roundhay School and became president of Oxford University Liberal Democrats before switching to the Conservatives.

A qualified management accountant, she worked at multinationals Shell and Cable & Wireless and served as a Tory councillor in Greenwich, south London, before entering Parliament.

In 2008, she was appointed deputy director of the Reform thinktank, which promoted the introduction of private sector expertise into the delivery of public services.

After two unsuccessful tilts at Labour safe seats in 2001 and 2005, she was placed on Mr Cameron's “A-list” and was eventually elected South West Norfolk by a comfortable majority of more than 13,000 votes.

Ms Truss married Hugh O'Leary, a finance director, in 2000 and has two daughters. She read philosophy, politics and economics at Merton College, Oxford.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Games Developer - HTML5

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Product Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to on-going expansion, this leading provid...

Recruitment Genius: Shift Leaders - Front of House Staff - Full Time and Part Time

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a family ...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works